Stavager

I woke up from the sleep of the dead on a little cot in Mikal’s apartment. He had work that day and I was to leave with him or else I could’ve slept for many an hour longer.
I transferred my pack back to its full capacity (the previous night I had made a day pack thinking I would spend the day exploring Oslo) in preparation for my trip to Stavanger.
My train was set to leave at 11am so I explored the area directly around the terminal for a few hours before boarding.
Let me take a little time to now vent about needing to pay for reservations on trains when I have already bought a pass that is supposed to get me on all trains for the next three months. While I knew some trains are overnight or express or French and would require reservations, it is still insanely frustrating to still be paying for this transport that I thought I had already done. A brotha’s trying to ball on a budget here, damn.
Vent over.
The train was good. It was my first true long distance train experience and it was wonderfully smooth and uneventful. The countryside that we rode through was also incredible. Towering, jagged mountains looming over the quaint Norwegian farms were wonderful distractions for my eight hour trip.
I arrived in Stavanger just past 7pm and the race was on for some white gas and a green spot to park my tent for the night. The sleeping space was put on hold because the crowds areound the parks were quite large and my stomach refused to wait much longer for sustenance. But the white gas was ill fated from the start, as the city basically shuts down except for restaurants and bars at 6pm. I found this out as I wandered between what could have been a J. Crew yacht club photo shoot on the harbor and the designer shopping district. Let me tell you how well me and my 70 litre pack fit in in that part of town. I found out later that all those J Crew model wanna be’s were actually just a bunch of oil and gas industry blokes in town for a convention of some sort.
Losing on both fronts of my mission, I retreated to the safety of the ferry terminal where I would catch my bus in the morning. With a roof and wifi it seemed like the perfect place to spend an evening. I met a talkative Chinese traveller, Roy, as well. We spoke and shared our stories as we prepared to spend the night in the terminal. And of course, as these things always do, no more than 5 minutes after I unrolled my bag but a security guard came through to close the building up.
I haphazardly threw my stuff back in the pack and trudged off into the 11pm Stavanger night. With a Roy right behind me.
See, the oil convention had claimed nearly every room in the city and Roy was extraordinarily unprepared for any situation in which he didnt have a bed at the end of the night, so I had told him that if he needed to he could spend the night in my tent. But instead of outright accepting my offer and his situation, he insisted on trying all the other public transport centers to see if they would be open. Want to guess which of them were?
I felt bad for the kid (and a tiny part of hoped he would be right and we would be ablr to sleep inside somewhere) but he was not. So we removed ourselves from the city center into a nice little green space in a neighborhood that was just a few minutes from where we needed to be the next morning. Oh, did I mention Roy was planning to go on the same hike as me the next day, too?
Roy waited around awkwardly as I set the tent up. He offered to help but I had no interest in teaching a “Tent Setting 101” in the dark when all I had on my mind was sleep. Once I had everything up and running, we climbed in and I realized just how unprepared Roy was. He didnt have a pad or a sleeping bag. He had a pillow, all of his clothes, and the waterproof cover for his pack. I knew that splitting my pad and bag up to make him more comfortable would only make for a miserable night for me and possible damage to my gear but I did really feel sorry for the kid.
My exhaustion was to a point that even these thoughts didnt keep me up long and soon I was out like rock.

All my love.

Oslo

On Monday, August 25th I arrived in Oslo. It was noon and I was exhausted from the flight and pretty intense over night experience in Reykjavik airport.
The first thing I did when I got off the airport was buy alcohol. Whiskey, of course. I knew that if any of my couchsurfing requests came through that I would leave the bottle with them (since alcohol is insanely expensive in Norway and I would be going through the tax/duty free area) or that it would be drank by Ziggy. And by Ziggy I mean me. Those are the best gifts, right? The kind you can decide not to give because you would rather have it for yourself?
I also took a major step in the trip and activated my EURAIL pass! So my three month continuous pass will last me from August 25th to November 25th. See you then, Istanbul.
I then spent a few hours in Oslo’s main terminal trying to decipher how best to go about my Norway to-do list. It was during this time that one of my couchsurfing requests was accepted! The crowd at Pepe Pizza got to see my happy dance when that notifcation popped up on my phone.
I wandered around before heading over to Mikal’s house. On the way I stopped and picked up some groceries for the next few days although I was bummed I couldn’t find any white gas for my stove.
When I got to Mikal’s, I could instantly tell that this was going to be a good surf experience. While his apartment was a simple studio, his welcoming and open attitude made it feel like a palace. We spoke over some dinner and he was able to give me some great insight into how I should spend my time here in Norway.
Originally from Norway, Mikal is an engineer in Oslo who has done some incredibly thorough traveling of Europe. We connected on a lot of things and he is a genuinely good guy. I particularly liked when we talked about some of the cultural/societal differences between the States and Norway. It was through this conversation that I was able to decide to head to Stavanger the next morning as opposed to during the day on Wednesday.
With this decision made, Mikal offered to take me on a quick tour of Oslo so I could still see the city on my expedited schedule. We took the tram to this massive park that is known for its abundance of naked statues including a particularly upset baby whose hand it has become popular to hold. As if holding the hand of the temperamental naked baby statue is going to calm it down. Next we walked to the royal palace, which I learned Mikal had worked at during his time in the army, and he was very informative about the family, their role in the government, and why Norway has decided to keep them around. The old fort by the harbor was our next stop and, although it was closed, it was still very cool. The view from it was an Oslo harbor and downtown lit up for the night and it was beautiful.
We headed back to Mikal’s place after that. Here I was able to take my first shower of the trip! I have officially showered more times than I have pooped in a hole so by those numbers the trip has been a success!
I crashed hard and mighty that night. It had been a long day in Oslo and I had a hot date with Stavanger to rest up for tomorrow.

If you’re reading this Mikal, a million and one thank you’s for your friendship and hospitality.

All my love.

Laugavergurin Trail: Emstrur to Borsmork. Or is it Langidalur?

Sunday, August 24th was my fourth and final day of the Laugavegurin Trail. I had a 15k hike from Emstrur to Borsmork/Langidalur but I had to be there by 2pm so I could catch the Trex bus for the day back to Reykjavik. If I missed the Trex, I’d miss my flight to Oslo!
Knowing I had to be done with the hike by 2pm at the latest, I had set my alarm for 6am so I could be on the trail by 7am with plenty of time to get to the bus. Although that third night in Emstrur had been the coldest due to our first cloud cover of the hike, I was up and ready to go in record time.
An unforseen perk of getting up that early was being completely by myself on the trail for the first few hours. The trail had actually been pretty crowded and I had never been in a situation where I didnt have people’s conversations and noises behind me or brightly colors jackets dotting the landscape in front of me.
It was good to be alone.
I kind of surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it. For the first three days we had nothing but sun and blue sky but now it was drizzling with complete cloud cover and it was still the best start to a day I had had yet.
I think by then my body had adjusted back into backpacking mode, I had found where I liked my pack to be strapped and my boots tied, and I was gloriously alone with nothing but the sound of my boots hitting the ground and the wind coming down off the mountains. 
I lost myself for those few hours. I thought about what I was doing, why I was here, and where I wanted to go. I thought about what ifs I had left back in the States, loose ends I wish I had tied up, and about how I could make all of this worth it. No conclusions yet, though.
Thankfully, I came out of my trance long enough to do a precarious river crossing where I had to lower myself down to a ledge on a rope, cross the river gorge on a wooden bridge, and then shimmy along a one railed ridge to the top of the other side. It was fun.
I soon took notice of two other hikers in front of me off in the distance. At first I thought they were coming my way but as I got closer I realized they were going the same way I was but had just beat me to the trail! Slightly bummed my boots hadnt been the first the trail had seen that day, I continued on until I eventually caught them and…. it was Alyssa and Elise!
I couldn’t have gotten more lucky with who I shared thw trail with the rest of the day. While I had enjoyed my time alone, the point of this trip was to experience the world and if this is what the world had in store for me for today then I was gonna make the most of it.
Together we covered the second half of the trai talking about how everyone always assumes they are lesbians, how terrible my hiking diet is (even though it isn’t), sunhats, Dad stories, and what our favorite hikes were.
We also had a knarly river delta crossing that was a series of about 8 forks in the river all of which were just deep and wide enough to leave your boots soaking. I lost feeling in my feet by the second fork and the air hurt my feet by the time I came out the other side.
We then found ourselves in the Icelandic woodlands and it was such a 180° turn from what we had seen just a few days earlier. It was then I realized all the days had been entirely different and this trail was far exeeding my expectations for diversity.
After 5 hours of hiking we arrived at the Borsmork Volcano Huts, what we all thought was the place we needed to be. Two out of three of us were right. Guess who was the one that got it wrong? THIS GUY.
Apparently, the Volcano Huts were somewhat of a third party operated establishment separate from the campsites and huts that are along the trail. It just so happens that the Trex only goes to those campsites, the final one in Langidalur being another 30 min hike away.
Two hours for a 30 min hike? Whats that? You have beer? Sure, I’ll take one.
Alyssa and Elise went all Jewish mother on me and bought me a pity beer and tried to pawn off all their leftover food onto me because they thought I was going to waste away right before their eyes. They even got me to try dried cod fillet which, while I am happy to say I have tried, I have no desire to ever have for the foreseeable future. I spent about an hour there with them chatting and resting before finally accepting the fact I really did have to go. I got some directions from the receptionist (who said I would go up and take thw trail to the right and shouldnt expect a climb of any sort, strapped my pack on, and was off.
After that I promptly made a wrong turn down a mountain bike path. Fuck me, right? The hills were alive with the sound of Ben’s holy-shit-I-am-going-to-miss-my-bus-and-plane-and-get-lost-in-the-woods cry to the heavens. That damn bike trail took 15 minutes to navigate before it spit me out further away from where I needed to go than I had started.
Finally finding the right ‘trail on the right’ I was then greeted by a ridge so steep they built stairs for them. “Well this can’t be right,” I thought, “the nice Volcano Hut lady said I wouldn’t have any significant climb.” WRONG. With 20 minutes till 2pm, I almost pulled a hip running up those stairs with my 60 pound pack.
I could have let out several ecstatic yips when I saw the Langidalur hut and Trex bus. I hurried over to the driver of the bus, apologized for being so last minute, and before I could ask where to put my bag she cut me off and said, “We don’t leave for another 45 minutes.”
I laughed. I laughed because I could only imagine what I looked like to this lady as I stood there, chest heaving, sweat dripping down my forehead, and still having the better part of an hour to kill.
I also laughed because that is what I get for letting myself lose focus. The entire point of this trip is to face the world and when it shows me a less than perfect face to still find the beauty and keep my center. For a minute there it was more important to me to catch my bus so I could catch my plane than to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings and everything that is inexplicably incredible about my life. I like to think I won’t make that mistske for awhile now.
I spent the time talking to two professors from Colorado who were travelling together. Wonderful women who were ESL and Dead Sea Scroll scholars. I sat with them on the bus and enjoyed a few more laughs with them on the ride and a final good luck when we got dropped off in Reykjavik.
And that is my Laugavegurin Trail adventure.

Overall I don’t think I could have had a better hike or first experience on this trip. While it was a bit weird to be in such a remote place yet still have so many people around me, I am not sure I was completely ready to be totally alone the entire time. This was a good way to ease into that. The physical demands of the trail were intense but nothing that left me incapacitated or couldn’t handle. It let me get my first true wear of my boots and pack in, find my hiking legs again, and let my body adjust to the different demands I will be putting on it for the next few months.

Iceland is beautiful. A unique, friendly, wild place that is just a small part of the world in which we live in. I am so blessed that I had the chance to explore this country, the Laugavegurin Trail, and I want to thank everyone for their constant support and love. Without you, life would be awfully hard.

All my love.

Laugavegurin Trail: Alflavatn to Emstrur

On Saturday, August 25th I hiked 16k from the Alflavatn campsite to Emstrur campsite on the Laugavegurin Trail.
That morning I woke up in quite the tiff. Both this morning and the first, I had woken with what seemed to be more than appropriate condensation on the inside of my tent. Since my sleeping bag is down and it is imperative that it doesn’t get wet, I was more than a little put off about why this was happening and how I could make sure it stopped.
I also set off for the day blissfully unaware that the 16k hike I was about to do was actually 16k. All my info had said it was 12k. This will come into play later.
The start of the hike was actually pretty fun. The trail climbed up out of the valley and there was the first river crossing where I needed to switch out my socks and boots for my sandals. Water was cold almost to the point of pain but before it could get there your feet went numb so no worries! That’s how it works, right? I would have to do that two times that day and each time I spent more time searching for a dry way across than if I had just accepted it for what it was and switched into sandals right off.
From the second river crossing on though, the hike got mighty flat and mighty slow. At first, it was very humbling and relaxing to be walking along the volcanic plains between hulking outcroppings of rock. But soon I began to fall victim to the same feeling of no progress as I had the day before. When you’re looking at the same environment, no matter how beautiful, for long enough it starts to lose its allure. I think it is a reason why a lot of people do not explore their own backyards and I was surprised by myself that I was affected by it so quickly.
The trail is also a road for a significant amount of time so you lose your sense of remoteness and wildness with every 4×4 Toyota that drives past. The whole trail vs road debate wound up being a lifesaver for me though. Without realizing they separated,  I had taken the road right when I was meant to take the trail to the left. By the time I noticed another pair of hikers had done the same and the three of us, all equally confused, had to take a minute to determine what was the right way. Of course we had made the wrong decision but it was that wrong decision that led me to meet two lovely Irish travellers!
The three of us took up a wild conversation about where we had travelled and shared some of our best stories. The both of them were extremely well travelled and I was definitely glad to have their company at that point. Upon hearing about my two trips to Israel, they were quite curious to hear about my opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the events of World War II and the Holocaust, as well as my own personal beliefs. It will never cease to amaze me how my Jewish identity connects me to people and this world. These of course are major topics and they lasted us a good long while before they were overtaken by the unavoidable feelings of, “Where the fuck are we?”
Having already made a mistake on the trail before, we were all a wee bit paranoid about making another. Factor in that I still think the hike is 4k shorter than it really is and the veritable desert we are walking through and you got yourself an interesting last 45 minutes of hiking.
Mainly because my expectation was to complete the day in under 4 hours, the 4 hours and 49 minutes it took to go the 16k seemed to take forever. It wasnt until someone at camp informed me that I had been wrong all day could I laugh and accept my goof.
Camp that night was on the side of a hill facing a huge glacial face. A stream ran right through the middle and the site was tiered like a poor Icelandic man’s Machu Pichu. By now I had setting up the tent and gathering penguin rocks down to a science though so it was up fast and easy.
I finally got my rice to cook right, too! What a relief that was, let me tell you. I ate with a group of Germans who were all traveling together. We had passed each other several times on the trail and they seemed great so I knew I wanted to make a point to sit with them on my last night. They were all very welcoming and we talked about everything from careers to fair trade to the lifelong question of, “What is the difference between a tin and a can?” To my readers, what would you say?
I had an early morning the next day so I could be sure to get to camp before the bus for that day left, so I turned in early, setting my alarm for 6am and happy knowing that there were still so many good people left in the world.

All my love.

Laugavegurin Trail: Hraftinnusker to Alflavatn

On the morning of Saturday, August 22 I woke up at 1,100m in Hraftinnusker campsite. The best part, I was warm! I was very happy knowing that my tent, pad, and bag had combined for an effective, warm shelter despite the wind and cold that occurred over the night.
My hiking buddy from the day before, Lucy from Lyon, informed me as I was breaking camp that she was going to turn back due to not feeling well and being unprepared for the full hike. I did my best to convince her to stay, because I know how disappointed I would have been had I needed to turn around, but in the end I gave her my contact info and wished her the best for her remaining time in Iceland.
This second hike would end up being my favorite of the entire trip due to the sole fact that it was nature unlike anything I had seen before. As we crossed the rolling hills and ridges between the mountains I got to see many rivers and waterfalls of glacial melt. While they didnt have the intense blue of the New Zealand glacial lakes, it was still very enchanting to walk among  them.
I was totally unprepared for what waited for me at the end of these rolling hills, however. Do you know in the adventure movies when a group is looking for treasure or love or a lost city or whatever and they finalllllllly find it and this super intense music comes out of nowhere and camera pans way out and then zooms way the fuck in to capture the full awesomeness of the moment? Yeah, coming over the final ridge and seeing the valley where we’d camp that night was kinda like that. Except the music was in my head. *cues heavenly trumpet quartet with walking stick*
I’m telling you people, it was something. Mountains that would be looming over me in a few hours looked like ant hills, rivers so wide that I would need to take my boots off to cross were blue threads sewn into the grassy fields, and the mountains surrounding it all made the entire thing looked like if God was hungry he could pour some Cheerios and milk into it and have the perfect bowl.
It turms out that even the Laugavegurin Trail is subject to the rule of ‘what goes up must come down’ because I spent the rest of my hike descending. Thankfully I had the incredible view of God’s cereal bowl to distract me but I couldn’t become too absorbed since most of the terrain was steep, loose rock or dirt. By the time I was in the valley my knee was thumping and feet were aching.
I spent what seemed like hours going the final kilometers to the campsite. Being back at a low point in such a high, massive place made progress seem particularly slow going. The mystique of it all was also broken by the mopeds, quads, and Jeeps of the emergency response team rushing past me on the service road. At first I thought there was going to be an unexpected adventure involving a volcanoe eruption in my near future but it just turned out to be a routine stop.
It took me 3 hours and 52 minutes to do the 12k to Alflavatn. This proves that, despite being less of a bitch to your cardiovascular system, going downhill is only easy if you pull a Joe Schuh and just jump.
Camp that night was right next to a lake that I could not for the life of me think of in any other way except for God’s left over milk. See, Dad, even God doesn’t like to drink his cereal milk!
The place was windy, too! It seemed to come in all directions so I put my tent at the bottom of a hill and collect some rocks (#PenguinStatus) to buffer it the best I could. However, the wind did make it an opportune place to get some sink laundry done!
I met a lovely doctor from Seattle, WA during my post hike stretch and snack time named Alyssa so we talked for awhile and I had dinner with her and her friend, Elise (at the time of this publishing I am unclear on how to spell your name, Elise, but I am sure you will find it all the funnier if I am spelling it wrong).
I messed my rice up again that night, too. Dammit.
After dinner I couldn’t help but overhear two men talking about their family’s Holocaust story. While their family’s story is very different from my own, I made a point to walk over and tell him how glad I was that he had taken the time to learn the story and pass it along. Because we must never forget.
The two men (who I believe were brothers or had married sisters, wasnt entirelt sure) were there with their families. Alex had brought his family from Boston and Ben had brought his from Belgium. All in all they had a party of 9 (which would be miserable navigating the trail but seemed like a lot of fun once they got to camp) and it was really great to be able to connect with strangers over my Jewish identity.
After corralling my laundry and writing for awhile I called it a night.

All my love.

Laugavegurin Trail; Lanmannalauger to Hraftinnusker

My #1 to-do item for Iceland was a 50k hike called the Laugavegurin Trail. I chose this hike for a few reasons but primarily because all the resources I looked at spoke of how diverse the landscapes of the hike would be. So, while it would have been cool to do some touristy things in Reykjavik or try scuba diving under the ice, I had set my sights on Laugavegurin since day one.
Now many of you know from my previous post about how the start to my trip was a bit more rough than I had originally planned. I was realizing the immensity of what I was doing and quite frankly was questioning some of the choices I had made. Laugavegurin changed all of that.
On Thursday, August 21 I woke up in a Reykjavik park, broke down camp, and caught the 7am bus to the trail head. I was using a ‘hikers pass’ offered by Trex that would take me the 4 hours to the trail head in Lanmannalauger and pick me up at the end in Borsmork. It was perfect for me because I could take as much or little time as I needed on the trail and was a quick and easy way for me to get to and from the area.

image

My Trex hiker's pass

I slept for most of the bus ride there but towards the end the sight of the mountains, glaciers, and lakes kept my attention. I was immediately reminded of New Zealand and some of the landscape I had seen there, but was particularly in awe at the sheer massiveness of the landscape. If there wasn’t a jagged mountain or looming glacier blocking it the horizon stretched for miles and miles around.
When we arrived at Lanmannalauger it was around 11am. I knew I needed to eat before I started out so I ate lunch at the campsite, filled up the water bottle and camelback, bought a map of the hike and area, and signed into the trail.
I had butterflies in my stomach when I set out on the trail. This was it! I was on cloud nine as I climbed up over a ridge that separated the campsite from the rest of the valley. The path navigated towards through a maze of rocks and ridges that I later found had been formed by volcanic activity.
Then I climbed. I had read that the first day was the hardest physically but was not prepared for it to be because of hiking straight up the entire time. It was definitely a shock to my system to get used to the pack and climbing all at once. But I relished in the challenge of it all. Plus, it was nice to have the, “Oh my look at how beautiful everything around me is in this exact location,” excuse whenever I needed to catch my breath halfway up an ascent. Or a quarter of the way. Whatever. Shut up.
It was one of these stops that helped me cross the path of Lucy, a solo hiker from Lyon, France. We went at about the same pace and served as unspoken motivation for the other to press on. We ended up spending the rest of the hike talking and this helped to distract from my hips and shoulders screaming from breaking in the pack. Should have gone for one more long walk through Louisville with it.
One of the coolest parts was when we had to walk across what I thought then was a glacier but now realize was more likely just a bunch of unmelted snow. There was a ridge that had been carved out by the feet in front of us, but on either side was this wide, sloping mass of snow. It was hard to fight the urge to not ride my pack all the way down. Whenever you could use a sled there’s never any around.
Another memorable moment for me was stopping at the memorial for an Israeli who had died on the trail some years ago due to hypothermia. While a terrible thing to happen, I thought it was very special that this stone memorial could be seen for what seemed like kilometers before you actually got to it.
It took me all of 3 hours, 46 minutes to do the first 12k section of the hike.
Camp was incredible that first night. We were at 1,100 meters with one side of camp being the ridge we had just climbed all day and the rest opening up into this rolling valley of hills criss crossed by glacial melt rivers. On the far side of this valley stretched one of the major fiaofntnejskgb-kull (as in, it has a really complicated official name that I dont know except for the -kull ending because thats what all glacier names end in) glaciers.
I set up my tent in one of the stone rings that dotted the campsite. The rings had been put up by previous campers to keep the wind out. Pretty brilliant. It reminded me of penguin nests and that hilarious clip of a penguin that just steals all the other penguin’s rocks instead of going out and looking for his own. To my knowledge, no one stole any of my rocks.
Dinner was a major failure that first night because I didnt realize the rice I had bought was boil-in-bag style. Take note readers, if you put boil-in-bag rice in hot water out of the bag it came in it will not cook. At all. Thankfully everyone around me had made way too much food for that night so I scavenged and enjoyed an orange and salami out of my own stores.
I turned in early and took time to read and write a little before I felt exhaustion grab hold of me. It felt good to not set an alarm or have to catch something the next morning. Just me, my tent, and 12k to Alflavatn tomorrow.

All my love.